Saturday, January 25, 2020

Death Stranding

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

Some of the most innovative games of all time are also some of the most polarizing. Games that have the courage to push the boundaries of what we have come to expect of a game and do so in a way that moves the medium forward into the great unknown. While this doesn’t always turn out well (Wii Music) there are times when even the most divisive games like Fortnite have moved the industry forward. Hideo Kojima is one of if not THE auteur of video games and while the story of the Metal Gear franchise on paper is laughable when consumed as a series of games it is one of the best multipart stories ever told proving that Kojima has the chops to get a big job done. Death Stranding is a wholly unique and enchanting game, for those it doesn’t click with it comes off as a pretentious fart sniffing walking simulator. But for those who interest is piqued it's a mesmerizing cathartic piece of art that can go on for hours.

Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Metal Gear is one of my favorite video game franchises ever so when Kojima's latest game was released I was going to play it no matter what the critics said. So lets get started with talking about Death Stranding.

Just so everyone knows this video wont contain any spoilers and is in no way meant to be a review. I haven't finished the game yet so I wont be referencing anything that cant be found in the marketing material and trailers. Also in an attempt to keep this video as friendly to those that haven't played the game yet as possible all of the capture you'll see here will be from the opening hours of the game in the first area so even if you consider that spoilerish don’t worry its just the very beginning of the game.

From the moment the game was announced Death Stranding was shrouded in mystery. And that was what the whole marketing campaign was based around. The games story is more than convoluted enough to confuse even someone playing the game. But for someone not actually playing through it all the trailers might as well have been tone pieces because even if they spelled the story out to us in those trailers, which it turns out they kind of did, it's still so confusing and difficult to put together that without knowing what we were being told it all felt disconnected. Now I understand that what I'm describing right now sounds like just a poorly made trailer but that confusion was engineered to entice the audience and entice us it did. We wanted to know what was happening with that baby we kept seeing in the trailers and the speculation around the major things like timefall and what exactly is the Death Stranding to the smallest details like what the main characters name was  is the mystery that built a community before the game was even released.

And that mystery wasn’t immediately or entirely answered after the games release. Just like most Kojima game Death Stranding has a hell of a story to tell and while some people will call it dumb and to crazy from what I've seen thus far I feel like once again he has hit that perfect level of wackiness that it just feels cool. With regards to the actual plot that occurs during the game it's definitely slow and intentionally so. There seems to be so much story to tell and so much going on all at once that without Red Dead 2 speed pacing the game would feel like a blur and nobody would understand what literally happened much less the inevitable subtext that comes with all Kojima games. Both the story and the exposition must be parceled out to the audience piece by piece and remembered clearly in order to make it digestible. Because of the complexity of the story it must be unfolded slowly and deliberately, similar to the difference between smashing a lego set and taking it apart piece by piece; one ends in a well plotted and organized manner while the other ends in complete disarray.

One thing that all stories have in common is a setting. Everything has to happen somewhere and the care that is put into creating that somewhere is almost always directly correlated with the care that is put into the story being told there. It's an easy comparison to make but think of it as the difference between Tolkien and Rowling. While both series are fantastic in their own way Rowling clearly wrote about a character and built a world around that character and molded that world to fit her needs as they came up whereas Tolkien created a world and then told a story within that world forcing the characters in the story to abide by the preestablished rules of the world. Death Stranding is leans heavily in the direction of Tolkien; Kojima imagined and created a world with systems structure and rules then proceeded to tell a story within that world. The United States of Death Stranding is a wholly realized world with a huge amount of lore to understand.

But all the story, mystery, and world building in the universe doesn’t mean anything if a game isn't fun and this is where Death Stranding seems to lose so much of its audience. The primary gameplay loop of Death Stranding consists of picking up packages and carrying them their destinations. It's a simple grind but one that is extremely easy to fall into a sort of trance with. Everything unfolds so naturally all in the course of picking up and delivering packages that I often find myself promising just one more package and end up playing for another two or three hours.

What makes that seemingly boring loop so endlessly entertaining though is movement. Over the last 30+ years we have come to expect movement in games to be fairly simple and straight forward (no pun intended). Movement has become to streamlined in video games, the assassins creed games have a parkour button that allows the player to simply hold the button and run up a 10 story building for Christ sake.  But when I first started Death Stranding I tried to run forward just like I would in any other game and immediately lost my balance and fell after tripping on a rock. It was then that the game pointed out to me that by pressing the R1 button I had the ability to scan the terrain and see in great detail what terrain would be more or less difficult to walk on. This balance mechanic makes movement something that the player has to cognitively keep in the back of their minds at all times. Where almost all other games make the player a superhero through their radical abilities Death Stranding leaves the player with a sense of accomplishment after traversing a patch of boulders or keeping their cargo dry by using a ladder as a bridge to cross a small stream. Death Stranding is fun for the same reason Mario 64 or Spider-Man PS4 is fun because the simple act of moving around the world is fun.

So it's easy to see why Death Stranding is such a love it or hate type of game. I understand why some people don’t like it but honestly I kinda love it. I took a break from Death Stranding to play Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order just a week after Death Stranding was released and while Fallen Order is in no way a bad game after just a few hours with it I couldn’t help but think about how primitive it feels in comparison to Death Stranding. Kojima's latest truly does feel like a generational leap forward for video games and while ripping off that band aid is difficult and not appropriate for all genres I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what ramifications it will have on the medium moving forward.

Are you someone that loved Death Stranding or someone that hates it? Let me know which you are and why in the comments down below. Don’t forget to check out everything we do including our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watches bad movies so you don’t have to all in one spot over at Ill be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!

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